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Human Rights Watch report notes pockets of improvement in repressive atmosphere

Abolish laws criminalising speech and association, free those unjustly detained and provide justice to prison massacre victims, says Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Tripoli, December 12, 2009 - Limited improvements are under way in Libya, including expanded freedom of expression and proposed reform of the penal code, but repressive laws continue to stifle speech and abuses by the Internal Security Agency remain the norm, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Human Rights Watch will hold a public news conference in the country today, a first for Libya, promising public debate on sensitive issues. The arrest of prominent critic Jamal el Haji on December 7, 2009, however, reflects the very real limits on internal criticism.

"A public assessment of Libya's human rights record in Tripoli would have been unthinkable a few years ago and reflects the expanded space for public discussion in Libya" said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should revise its penal code to allow all Libyans the freedom to have such public discussion without fear of criminal sanction and stop jailing those who express criticism of the government, including Jamal el Haji."

The 78-page report, "Libya: Truth and Justice Can't Wait," is based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch during a 10-day visit to Libya in April, the organization's most recent trip to the country. The report is also based on ongoing monitoring from outside the country. The report finds that while the internet and two new newspapers in the country have given journalists increased space to write openly on certain sensitive subjects, heavy criminal sanctions continue to stifle journalists and prohibit freedom of association. Lawsuits and prosecutions of journalists under the country's libel laws have increased, but so far no journalist has been sentenced to prison.

Click here to access the complete text of the press release and the Human Rights Watch report

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